July 28, 2021 | Story by: Livingston Daily
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Brighton dad and BBQ sauce creator John O’Brien found himself in a position that many have experienced during the coronavirus pandemic.
O’Brien got laid off and had to contemplate his next career move.
He landed in the food truck industry and his sons, Alexander and Jacob Kova, wanted in. He purchased a food trailer and his sons came up with the idea to specialize in barbecue meats and mac and cheese.
“We’re launching into a market where people are excited to get out of their house,” O’Brien said while serving the crowd at the summer Food Truck Fridays rally in Pinckney.
He said food trucks are seeing great business and have been able to function well during the pandemic by getting creative.
With the return of festivals and other events, more opportunities are available for his business, Two Brothers BBQ Mac Shack.
“While a lot of festivals got canceled, subdivision parties were a big thing,” O’Brien said. “You go to the people. They don’t come to you.”
He said there are advantages to being a mobile business, because many restaurants are struggling to overcome lost revenue, high overhead and a hiring shortage.
“A lot of businesses blame it on unemployment, but being laid off, I can tell you, I went into the food truck industry,” O’Brien said. “With industries like bartender, server, a lot of them had to take a pay cut going into other industries. Some people got back into the field they studied. With COVID, they might be going back into their field.”
His sons see the food truck as a long-term investment.
“Me and my brother have been talking, if we take it over, this is what we would do,” Alexander Kova said.
Jacob Kova said he has a real passion for food.
“I’ve always been interested in cooking. I think it’s intricate and elegant, and the food truck is the best because you can travel when you want opportunities.”
Pinckney’s summer food truck rallies are new this year, and the food trucks are attracting large crowds. The event series also absorbed some other events, including Art in the Park and the Pinckney-Putnam-Hamburg-Hell Chamber of Commerce Business Expo. Food truck rally organizers invited artists and business vendors to participate in the food truck rally instead.
Khalipha Kane is also a new food truck owner who had already been running a catering business on top of working at a day care.
When Kane, a Detroit resident, was laid off after the day care closed, she started up Khalipha’s Mobile Kitchen, which serves soul food that adheres to Zabihah Halal — a form of Islamic meat butchering and processing.
“It was a longtime dream of mine, and after I lost my job last year during the pandemic, the idea of a food truck resurfaced,” she said. “I was working at a day care, and when schools closed, I knew I could apply for unemployment, but I have three kids and the bills exceeded what they were giving out. So I thought, how could I invest in something that would give me a return?”
She said the food truck industry has been booming.
“I’m just about to pay the truck off,” Kane said. “It was kind of risky, especially because we didn’t know what was going to happen during the pandemic. Public events canceled, so you had to find ways to stay afloat.”
She said she found plenty of business by parking near public parks and other places people gather.
“It’s the convenience of a quick meal without leaving the park and still being able to hang out. I saw that as an opportunity.”
She has also parked near a Detroit skatepark and across the street from large employers. As public events and festivals return, she is jumping on board.
Earlier this year, she participated in Eid ul Fitr celebrations held in Canton to celebrate the Muslim holiday that drew thousands of people.
“We were slamming. We never stopped,” Kane said. “From the time we started we were busy.”
Overall, her food truck business plan is working for her.
“With the food truck it’s more consolidated (than a restaurant), it’s easy to stay clean and sanitary, and although you can’t service the vast amount of people at the same time, it’s still fast,” Kane said. “The food is fresh. It’s hot, and then you hang out and chat with people and before you know it your food is up.”